Loris Gréaud, ICA, London
Thursday 15 May 2008
Loris Gréaud's work is full of Gallic chic, a sort of stylish marriage between Eurotrash and Roland Barthes. Depending on your taste and point of view, it is either a web of complex ideas that fuses different fields of activity and knowledge, oriented around processes rather than finished forms; or it is a load of French intellectual cobblers.
Cellar Door is an "artistic" experiment made up of a range of manifestations, one of which is the current installation at the ICA, itself entitled Cellar Door (Once is Always Twice). Another is an exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris; a third is an opera scored by Thomas Roussel, with a libretto by Raimundas Malasauskas and Aaron Schuster, to be staged by the Paris Opera at the end of the year; and a fourth is an actual studio that Gréaud is building on the outskirts of Paris. The notion of an artist's studio is fundamental to the project, both as a physical space and as the starting point in a perpetual cycle of activity.
For the ICA installation, Gréaud has created three identical rooms that reveal his preoccupation with doubling and repetition. His favourite book, it turns out, is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Here, everything is black and white. The black carpet is covered with a white geometric pattern partly derived from the coordinates of stars, and partly from architectural geometry. The architect Buckminster Fuller – famous for his experiments with the geodesic dome and as forefather to the current debate on architecture and global economy – is an emblematic figure for Gréaud.
In the centre of each room are special light-emitting speakers (rather like giant illuminated profiteroles). The libretto of the opera being transmitted describes the multiplication of rooms. Triplets dressed as waiters (in black and white, of course) serve rather unpleasant black champagne, and on the walls of each room is a text created from mirrored lettering that reads: "When people tell me that I know how this story is going to end I usually tell them: wait till the end and you will see yourself..."
The final component is a series of high-speed automatic doors, which open like shutters (or, one fears, might close like guillotines) to separate the three rooms.
The title Cellar Door is inspired by J R R Tolkien's essay, "English and Welsh" (1955), in which the author and linguist remarked on the beauty of the words "cellar door". This is given yet another, and some might feel tortuous, twist in Caladour. These are packets of sweets, complete with ad campaign, on sale from the vending machine in the ICA's bar. Conceived by the artist, they are, of course, no ordinary sweets, for they have no taste, suggesting that the "sucker" can project whatever flavour he or she chooses on to the bland confection. This, according to Gréaud, reflects the open-ended and collaborative nature of the project.
He describes his body of work as "machines where things are transformed, distorted and displaced... In my works, the origin and production of a piece are not meant to coincide." (Space does not permit analysis of this arcane statement.) The general effect is very theatrical and rather decadent. For the viewer/ participant, it is rather like being part of a fin de siècle Aubrey Beardsley drawing. One would hardly be surprised if Oscar Wilde and Bosie were to wander on to the set at any minute and stand languidly beside the Art Nouveau-style profiterole-speakers sipping the black champagne and wearing green carnations.
To that extent, it is all a rather playful and witty artifice. And if only we could read it as just an ironic spoof, it would be so much more fun than the claims that it is "a grand spectacle distended in time and space" that challenges "ideas of repetition and identity" and "uniqueness and perception".
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